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Rock Steady Boxing offers strength, hope to those with Parkinson’s

A fitness program is offering those dealing with Parkinson’s disease a new way to fight.

Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) of South Brunswick is a comprehensive exercise program that is built around simple boxing.

“When you think about how a boxer trains for things like speed, agility, balance, those are the issues that people with Parkinson’s deal with and need to work on,” said Ginny Scaduto, who is a trainer at RSB of South Brunswick, which is located inside Retro Fitness of Kingston, located in Princeton.

The classes focus on functional movements, hand-eye coordination, alleviating stiffness, increasing strength, as well as camaraderie and a sense of family.

“What’s really exciting for us as Rock Steady coaches is to watch that positive progression, and it’s just so amazing once they put those gloves on they really are boxers,” Scaduto said.

Family is certainly a theme, as Scaduto’s brother Peter, who is married to Shelley Mengo, a fellow trainer at Retro Fitness, was diagnosed in April of 2017 with Parkinson’s disease. 

While the family was waiting for Peter’s confirmed diagnosis, Scaduto was approached by the CEO of The Parkinson Alliance in Kingston – who is a member of Retro – who asked if she knew anyone who might have Parkinson’s, and informed her about a program called Rock Steady Boxing located in Illinois.

RSB, the first boxing program of its kind in the country, was founded in 2006 by former Marion County, Indiana, Prosecutor Scott C. Newman, who is living with Parkinson’s. 

“You can only imagine the feeling [Scaduto] got. Here we were waiting on Pete’s diagnosis,” Mengo said. “It obviously was very personal for both of us so we travelled to Illinois to take their certification program.”

Mengo is a certified RSB coach, as well as a certified boxing trainer with The Boxing Fitness Institute in Monroe.
Scaduto is also a certified RSB coach, a certified trainer with The Boxing Fitness Institute, a certified personal trainer, a group fitness instructor and a certified spin instructor. She spent 25 years as a global operations executive for a Fortune 500 workforce solutions company. She began working at Retro approximately four years ago, and left her corporate career in January to pursue fitness and RSB on a full-time basis.
Since Scaduto and Mengo are personal trainers at Retro, the owner allowed them to hold classes three times a week. 
“Knowing that this disease is a neurological and progressive one, with no cure, it was important to research every possible avenue to make sure my husband would continue to have the best quality of life possible,” Mengo said of moving so quickly toward the program, “and Rock Steady was part of that strategy.”
“Knowing that exercise would have a big impact, my initial motivation was to educate myself to do everything possible to understand the disease and how I could best help my brother as a trainer,” Scaduto added.
While the most common age range is early to mid-sixties, their clients range in age from 45 to 83, mostly from the greater Brunswick and Princeton areas.
“We open all of our classes with an inspirational or funny quote and a few positive affirmations, which helps to set the tone for the class,” Scaduto said. “We use many different exercise modalities for variety and effectiveness, but there is always a warm up, typically some type of strength training, and the highlight of the workout is non-contact boxing. We sometimes introduce cycling, yoga, various types of games that have a cognitive component, etc. We conclude with a cool down, stretching and a team chant.”
RSB is non-contact, but the key is that there is a strong correlation between how a boxer trains and the challenges that people with Parkinson’s face, according to Scaduto.
“Therefore, as in any boxing training, it is aerobic and anaerobic, and combines strength, speed, agility, core and balance. However, we are hyper-focused on the individual needs of each client and we incorporate a great deal of the balance techniques along with things like voice activation, etc. Also, there are always at least two coaches and multiple ‘cornermen’ to assist in each class,” she said.
Mengo said although their boxers have common symptoms, Parkinson’s is a disease that is different for everyone.
“Simple tasks that we take for granted, they fight to reclaim. They are strong in spirit, have hope, and are comfortable in the judgement free zone we create,” she said.
“If there is one thing I could convey to families and individuals dealing with this disease, it’s that early intervention is key. Shelley and Peter represent the perfect example or formula for the best outcome.  Research and understand the disease, get a good movement disorder specialist, and take control of your future by doing everything you can to mitigate the symptoms and progression of the disease. How they have handled this challenge is truly inspirational and I think our boxers see that as well,” Scaduto added.
As for Peter Mengo, his symptoms started out as slight hand tremors, but gradually other symptoms were becoming more noticeable. It affected his gait, created stiffness and his every day tasks became an effort.
“I had an inclination but was hoping it wasn’t true – scared to get through the test only to be told what I expected to hear: ‘You have Parkinson’s,’ a neurological disease with no cure. So many emotions, but mostly being afraid of losing my independence,” he said.
Shelley Mengo said her husband was referred to a neurologist who is a movement disorder specialist for Parkinson’s. He attended LSVT, started exercising daily, and takes three RSB classes per week.
“I take a very low dose med,” Peter Mengo said. “The best medicine, however, is the love and support from my wife.”
As for the future of the program, Shelley Mengo hopes that through collaboration with coaches worldwide, they can make enhancements, improvements and discover new ways to enable their boxers not only to fight back but to one day win the fight.
“I would simply add that we want to be able to help as many people as possible, and to provide hope, laughter and encouragement. It’s all about enabling them to have a better quality of life,” Scaduto said.

Rock Steady Boxing of South Brunswick is located at Retro Fitness, 4437 Route 27, Princeton. For more information, visit southbrunswick.rsbaffiliate.com or call 609-571-6563.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.
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